American Spy Satellites To Snoop On U.S.

spy satellite over earth

The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Department of Homeland Security has approved a measure to allow federal civilian agencies and law enforcement to turn American spy satellites on their own citizens for the first time.

Until now, the highly sensitive satellites were aimed mostly at other countries, usually ones we didn't really trust. Occasionally, geologists and NASA scientists got to use them to make things like topographical maps. Letting domestic security folks use them to spy is, the Journal says, "uncharted territory."

Officials have been mulling the plan for a couple years, but often bumped up against questions about whether this kind of snooping would violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars military for engaging in law-enforcement activity within the U.S., since the satellites are built for and owned by the Defense Department.

The decision was made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnel, and OKed in May by DHS chief Michael Chertoff.

Access to the satellite will be controlled by a new Homeland Security branch, the National Applications Office. As Charles Allen, the DHS's chief intelligence officer who will head up the new program, summed up cryptically, "It is an idea whose time has come."

Naturally, privacy groups are freaking out. Sentences like this one probably don't help. "The full capabilities of these systems are unknown outside the intelligence community, because they are among the most closely held secrets in government."

One privacy advocate complained that it was this secrecy that was the real problem.

"You are talking about enormous power," said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel and director of the Project on Freedom, Security and Technology for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group advocating privacy rights in the digital age. "Not only is the surveillance they are contemplating intrusive and omnipresent, it's also invisible. And that's what makes this so dangerous."

Sneak Peak At Petraeus's September Report

Wait 'till September, wait 'till September, wait 'till September. Republicans spent much of the summer begging other lawmakers and the American public to reserve judgment on the troop surge until Gen. David Petraeus presented his September report.

But for those who can't wait, there's a report in the Los Angeles Times this morning attempting an educated guess at what the September report might say.

According to unnamed officials interviewed by the paper, Gen. David Petreus is expected to propose a "partial pullback" in his September report which would authorize U.S. commanders to withdraw troops "from places that have become less violent."

This might mean withdrawing from Ninveveh province in northern Iraq and Al Anbar in the west, according to unnamed officials, but it "does not necessarily follow that Petraeus would call for reducing the overall number of troops in the country."

Bigtime Baksheesh In U.S. Contracts In Iraq

USA Today reports that a federal crackdown on corruption involving U.S. contracts in Iraq produced a record number of criminal and administrative cases last month, including the largest bribery case.

Pentagon auditors have questioned $4 billion in contractors' bills for work in Iraq. So far, 29 people have been charged or convicted, 7 of them last month. During the last week of July alone, investigators accounted for four arrests, including those of Army Maj. John Crockerham, his wife and sister for allegedly taking $9.6 million in bribes.

A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.

  • David Hancock On Google+»

    David Hancock is a home page editor for